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Quick update

The lack of updates recently is due to a plethora of goings-on in my non-blog life (which, as some readers know, makes up rather the majority of my life). A few things in particular:

  • Betsy, Evan and I all got sick at roughly the same time last week, and are still recovering. This is Evan’s first time ever being sick. He’s taking it reasonably well for a baby — which is to say, still crying a lot. His face is also somewhat wetter than usual, because babies are not skilled at what you might call “fluid management.”
  • Evan turned seven months old last Saturday.
  • He got a flu shot yesterday, and took it like a champ — much better than I reacted to my own flu shot, last year.
  • This past weekend, my dad and stepmom and stepdog drove up from Texas to visit, which was great! The previous weekend (Easter), Betsy’s parents and sister and niece and nephew came to visit, which was also great. Introverts that we are, we’re not used to having so many people over in such a (relatively) short span, so it brought us out of our shells a bit, and that’s a Good Thing.
  • At the end of March, I finished copyediting a book about programming, called Programming for the Puzzled, for MIT Press. That was a big job, but pretty exciting to be working for a client like MIT.
  • Various other editing projects in progress.
  • Still working on the first draft of Crane Girl, now over 115,000 words and counting. I may have to cut this one somewhat, but I suspect the finished product will still be pretty long.
  • I’m on season 3 (of 5) of Teen Titans. It’s pretty good! It’s closer to the “kid” end of the kid/adult spectrum than, say, Avatar: The Last Airbender, but still very enjoyable, and surprisingly deep and serious in places. It’s also really well done visually, clean and dynamic and powerful.
  • Betsy has started watching The Durrells in Corfu, which only has seven episodes so far. I’ve been gradually watching it over her shoulder more and more, i.e., it’s sucking me in. The show is based on some books which are, in turn, based more or less on a true story. It’s about an English family that moves to the Greek island of Corfu (a real place) in the 1930s.
  • The March for Science was on Saturday — a successful event, by the sound of things.

I’ve also been reading some poems. Here’s an old one you may not have run into before — I especially like the last two lines.

God’s Grandeur
Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

I just started watching Teen Titans

Yes, the kids’ cartoon from 2003. And no, not because I have a kid now.

I’m a few episodes in. It’s dumb in some ways but brilliant in others, so I may keep watching. We’ll see.

I’m concerned about the theme song, though. It seems … poorly researched. Un-fact-checked.

Take this line, for instance:

With their superpowers they unite

But the leader of the team doesn’t have superpowers.

From their tower they can see it all

In the very first episode they get kicked out of their tower by an attack they didn’t see coming.

Never met a villain that they liked

The team meeting a villain they like is literally the premise of the second episode.

I just … I don’t even know who I can trust anymore.

March for Science — April 22

No Federalist Capers this month, partly because I’ve been extra busy, and partly because I don’t have much wisdom to impart about recent Trump developments. Incompetence, hypocrisy, childishness, self-serving rhetoric, nepotism, lack of transparency, questions about Russia, and a complete disconnect from reality — I’ve talked about most of that already, and it’s all still there, essentially to the same degree. Only the details have changed.

But I do want to draw your attention to the March for Science on April 22 (Earth Day).

What is the March for Science?

Lots of people who love science and support scientific thinking will be marching in a peaceful and positive demonstration on April 22.

I assume they have a website and such.

Site: MarchForScience.com

Twitter: @ScienceMarchDC (currently 343K followers)

Where is this happening?

The big one’s in Washington D.C., but there are satellite marches across the United States.

Who’s involved?

A lot of people. Bill Nye will be at the D.C. event, and the Planetary Society (of which he is the CEO) is an official partner. Other official partners include the Society for Neuroscience, the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and so, so many others.

Incidentally, one of the partners — the MIT Press — will soon be publishing a book for which I was the copyeditor. Aww yeah!

Where do I sign up?

RSVP here.

I can’t go. Is there a way to attend virtually?

Yep! I’m in the same boat myself. Just hit the RSVP link above, choose D.C., and check the box to attend virtually. You get a livestream video of the event, and you can send them signs and other stuff that they will display in some manner.

Are there T-shirts and mugs? Can I donate?

Yes and yes. Here’s the store and here’s the donation page.

Shouldn’t scientists just stay out of politics?

Science is our most reliable method for learning about reality, and politics is one of our best tools for shaping reality. They are inherently linked, and that’s a good thing. I discuss this in more detail here.

Is the March for Science anti-Trump?

The March is pro-science, and it pushes back against actions and messages that are anti-science. Since Trump is the most anti-science U.S. president in modern history (perhaps in all history), yes, the March is largely about defending science from these unprecedented attacks.

It’s sort of like, if you and your community spend lots of time and money and effort building this shelter where people can go to be safe and get an education, and then some dude comes along and tries to set the building on fire, are you anti- that guy? I mean … kinda? Like, I don’t hate you, but maybe don’t try to set it on fire please?

Where was that RSVP link again?

Right here!

I made another Buffy video

It’s a music video, as the last two were. This time I used “Amazing Grace.” Might seem like a strange choice for a show like Buffy, but it seemed to fit.

I made the last two videos (based on the songs “Thrift Shop” and “Remember the Name”) with Windows Movie Maker, the free and decidedly low-end video editor that comes with Windows. It’s a surprisingly robust program, especially given the price tag, but it’s buggy. In particular, it crashes a lot when the videos start to get longer.

Last year, Betsy’s birthday gift to me was a (hopefully) better video editor: CyberLink PowerDirector 14, which cost $75. It wasn’t until this latest project, this week, that I finally got around to trying it.

It does have a lot of features, and a clean interface. It would be much better than Movie Maker — if it worked. But, like Movie Maker, it has a plethora of glitches. I literally spent almost as much time troubleshooting as I did actually making the video. So the search for good software continues.

Anyway, here’s the video I made:

You can find my other Buffy works, video and otherwise, right here: https://buckleycreations.com/buffy/

Currently reading

I’m 50 pages in. Really good so far.

Someday, when I have a few minutes free, I may even write a post about it!

About the freezing of the new travel ban

You may have heard that Travel Ban 2.0 has already been frozen by a federal judge in Hawaii, meaning it never even took effect. Shortly afterward, another federal judge — this time in Maryland — also froze the ban for good measure.

Initially, I had mixed feelings about all this.

As I mentioned before, both iterations of the ban are worse than useless, so I’m certainly glad to see that it’s not being implemented (yet). I’m also glad to see the other two branches of government standing up to the President. So yeah, I did a little internal happy dance when I learned the news.

On the other hand, I wasn’t sure I agreed with the reasoning behind the judges’ decisions.

Both rulings say, essentially, that the travel ban violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. That is, it deliberately discriminates against members of a particular religion — in this case, Muslims.

Travel Ban 1.0 had specific language, albeit brief, that mentioned a preference for minority religious groups (i.e., Christians), so the case was pretty straightforward. But nothing in 2.0 is explicitly about religion, and moreover, it’s hard to call it a “Muslim ban” when it bans only a small minority of Muslims, and does so only as a side effect of nationality. Screening by nationality, while stupid and pointless, could at least nominally be explained as a national security measure.

So the only way to block this thing on First Amendment grounds is to say it is motivated by intent to discriminate. Now, this is well-established precedent, so the Hawaii and Maryland judges were just doing their jobs. But I found the idea worrisome. By looking at intent, aren’t we asking judges to psychoanalyze? Conversely, shouldn’t we be able to judge a law by its text and its likely effect on society? Why does it matter if the legislator (or President, in this case) intended something bad? We only care about outcomes, right?

But after reading the Hawaii judge’s ruling (which is utterly fascinating, by the way) and thinking it over, I believe I’ve changed my mind. Here’s why:

If we don’t worry about intent, it becomes really easy to discriminate by proxy.

As an extreme example, say a certain religious sect — the Tortugans — mandates that all believers get a tattoo of a turtle on their left arm at age 18. Now, the President hates turtles because they carry their homes with them, and thus don’t stay in his hotels. So he wants to ban the Tortugans.

Problem is, there’s that pesky First Amendment. So instead he just bans immigrants with tattoos of turtles on their left arms. It’s not about religion, he insists — a Christian with such a tattoo would be banned too, and a Tortugan who hadn’t gotten the tattoo (for whatever reason) would be allowed in. The left-arm turtle tattoos, he explains, are a public safety risk, because children are scared of turtles and might scream if they see a tattoo, thus inciting a riot.

If we’re not allowed to consider intent, such an order would seem to obey the First Amendment. The public safety argument is ludicrous, but it’s not the court’s job to decide whether orders and laws are logical, only whether they’re constitutional. The order overwhelmingly affects Tortugans, but that alone isn’t enough either, because it’s possible that a genuinely necessary order could disproportionately affect a certain religion (say, a small cult whose members have a fondness for AK-47s and aren’t big on safety training). So we’d have to allow it, as far as I can tell.

At that point, the Establishment Clause has basically become meaningless.

The problem with the anti-Tortugan order is, essentially, intent. Because if the President really is trying to protect national security (and has a valid reason for thinking this will do it), then the anti-Tortugan order should be allowed, even though it’s unfortunate for that particular religion. But if the President is trying to discriminate, and the tattoo stuff is just a proxy for that, then it should not be allowed.

As I said, that’s an extreme example, and the actual travel bans are more complex. But I think the principle is the same. If there were really a strong national security justification for banning people from those six countries, then it should be allowed, even if it affected a much higher percentage of Muslims. But if it were aimed at keeping Muslims out, then it should be stopped, even if it affected a much lower percentage.

Or so it seems to me right now.

It turns out, this Constitution stuff is complicated. Who knew?

Irrational exuberance